Health visitor checks to remain mandatory

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 02 March 2017

Children will continue to receive mandatory checks from health visitors, the Department of Health (DH) has confirmed following a review of the policy.

The review into the future of health visitor checks launched in July 2016. Picture: Alex Deverill

Legislation requiring health visitor family checks to be carried out on a mandatory basis expires this month. But a review conducted by Public Health England (PHE) found that all stakeholder groups, commissioners, providers and professionals wanted checks to remain mandatory.

The DH has now confirmed that local authorities will be required to continue delivering health checks beyond March 2017.

Public health minister Nicola Blackwood said: "Health visitors support families to give children the best possible start in life, that's why we have taken strong action to making these services mandatory across the country."

Organisations responding to the review, which launched in July 2016, said the current mandatory nature of health checks creates "a uniformity of expectations across the country, helping to ensure that families benefit from the service irrespective of where they live".

Parents currently receive five health checks - one before birth, one when the baby is born, one when the baby is between six and eight weeks old, one when they are between nine and 12 months old, and one when the child is between two and two-and-a-half years old. 

Data in the review showed high levels of the population in England are receiving the checks. Between October and December last year, 87.8 per cent of newborns were checked by a health visitor, 82.7 per cent of babies received a six-to-eight week visit, 82.5 per cent saw a health visitor at the end of their first year, and 74.7 per cent completed a two or two-and-a-half-year review.

The sector has expressed relief about the decision. Institute of Health Visiting executive director Cheryll Adams said the government has "made the right decision for children and for society".

"These reviews allow health visitors to identify health needs early and to provide appropriate interventions and support to families," she said.

PHE chief nurse Viv Bennett said the reviews provide an important opportunity to support mothers' mental health, discuss immunisations, breastfeeding and healthy diet options for babies, and provide referral to specialist services. 

"We are committed to supporting local government to ensure these checks are given to every young child," she said. 

However, local authority chiefs have raised concerns about delivering the checks in the future climate of reduced funding.

The Local Government Association's community wellbeing board chairman Izzi Seccombe, said government cuts to councils' public health grants of nearly 10 per cent over five years threaten to undermine councils' work with children.

"If councils are to continue to deliver mandatory health checks the government must commit to providing ongoing funding to support this vital service," she said.

"Government must also take this opportunity to review all mandated services and ensure local flexibility so that decisions about future funding can be made in line with local needs."

Association of Directors of Children's Services health, care and additional needs policy committee chair Charlotte Ramsden said: "If mandation is to continue, it needs to be fully funded and without this, local authorities need flexibility to meet their public health priorities at the local level," she said.

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